From Tanzania into the German job market and back

Ruas de Arusha / Streets of Arusha

Innocent Mekari and Juma Ahmeld Mpangule. Two men from Tanzania, one goal: Innocents dreams of working in Germany, Juma already lives that dream. As a foreigner the way into the German job market can be stony. But in the end it can also be very promising.

Finding a job in Germany: Steps on a stony way

I want to go to Europe to learn and gain knowledge to increase my competencies in my field of study. That is my key goal.” Innocent Mekari is 23 years old and lives in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Like some other of his fellow students, he dreams of going to Europe and working there. With his bachelor degree in civil engineering, he should be qualified to find at least a job in his field of study. Instead, he is currently looking for part time jobs to keep him busy and to make some money. After that, he plans to gain even more qualifications with going for a master’s degree. “And after that, I want to work in Europe, specifically Germany, because professionally I see Germany as a place with opportunity and as the best place for me to grow in my expertise and technical know-how in civil engineering.

Right now Innocent Mekari already plans his future professional career in Germany. “Of course I have fears such as would life there be expensive? Can I handle the challenges I will face there? How do people treat people from another country? And I know that the job market in Germany is probably very competitive.” Innocent Mekari knows that the way from finishing university in Tanzania to a German job contract can literally be long, but he fulfils at least the most general precondition, a completed education: According to the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Federal Employment Agency and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy university graduates, as well as people with a finished apprenticeship, would be in a good position of finding a job. But as a member from a non-European country having a completed apprenticeship or being a graduate is only the first of many steps on the long way into the German job market. It can be steep and stony for people being unfamiliar with the German bureaucracy and there can be different turnings for different people depending on the circumstances under which they get to Germany.

In times when, according to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in 2015 there was a plus of 135 percent of people submitting an application for political asylum in Germany (that is without the applications that are still unreported), it is first of all important to differentiate between a refugee searching for a job and somebody like Innocent Mekari who decides voluntarily to apply for a job in Germany.

Migrants do not equal refugees

Jessica Hallmann works for the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Essen which is an institute with departments all over Germany that support the local economy. It is, for example, popular for its commitment to helping young people from age sixteen onwards to start their professional career. Jessica Hallmann explains the way into a job is different for people with a refugee status. “When refugees arrive in Germany the federal employment agency takes care of them at first. As soon as a refugee is officially recognized as such the Job Center takes care of them.” Nowadays the two departments work closely together with the authority for foreigners. Those three departments offer recognized refugees language and integration courses and look for a suitable job.

Daria Hartmann from the Coordination Office Refugees of the Federal Employment Agency explains we have to differentiate between migrants who can leave their home country on their own initiative and refugees, which are migrants that are forced to leave their home country because of political persecution, discrimination or war. In legal terms, refugees are a group of people that gain a residence status and that can receive access to the job market. In personal terms, refugees often do not have proof of their professional qualifications, because they did not take the necessary documents with them when leaving their home country or they lost them on the way to Europe. Other than that they are often traumatized because of the terrible experiences they made in their home country or on the way. The UN Refugee Agency adds that migrants, although they can leave and return to their home country voluntarily, often choose to move not because of a direct threat but because of improving their lives by finding work for example.

A bagful of Visas

Innocent Mekari would be part of that group: Migrants that leave their home country voluntarily, but who want to improve their education by finding work in Germany. “To find a job I will first look in my network, through friends who are in Germany and know the job situation. My plan after my arrival is to study and struggle to have a temporary job”. Using a network of people in Germany asking them if they have contact to firms that offer a job is one way of informing about job opportunities as a first step into the German job market. What Innocent Mekari could also do is looking for a job when he is still in Tanzania via the internet. Portals like or support applicants in their search for jobs via publishing job announcements from different German companies. The second step on the way into the German job market for this group of migrants it is to think about a visa that may be necessary to stay and work in a European country. Make it in Germany, a cooperation of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Federal Employment Agency, explains that Innocent Mekari as a citizen from a non-European country needs a visa. He needs to apply for it at the German embassy in Tanzania. In Germany there exist different kinds of visas depending on the purpose someone wants to stay in the country. That can be for example for catching a job, studying or doing research. In Innocent Mekari’s case it is important whether he finds a suitable job in his field of study before he comes to Germany or if he enters Germany and then starts searching for work. In the first case and as an academic he could apply for the EU Blue Card which leads to a permanent residence permit after 33 months of working in Germany, but only if the applicant works in his field of study and earns an annual gross salary of at least 49.600 euros. In the second case Innocent Mekari has to apply for a visa for jobseekers which gives him the possibility of coming to Germany to look for a job up to six months. Once he finds a job during that period of time he can apply for the Blue Card. Which visa you need for which circumstances is furthermore explained well by make it in Germany .

In contrast to migrants like Innocent Mekari, the German Federal Employment Agency explains that asylum seekers who were forced to leave their home country are not allowed to work in the first three months of their stay in Germany as well as during their time in the initial reception camps (where they can stay up to six months). Once they are recognized asylum seekers they have unrestricted access to the German job market.
What both groups of migrants share in terms of finding a job after they both mastered their first steps are the next sections on their way to the job market: language acquisition, the acceptance of foreign educational qualifications and the professional orientation in Germany.

Translating your qualification into German

After having applied for a visa, as a non-European migrant, the next step is the acceptance of one’s educational qualifications. That may also be the next step for Innocent Mekari. “I think if a person is qualified he or she can have the respective job”, he explains. To be able to recognize these qualifications officially the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research supplies a recognition finder that quickly guides migrants to the appropriate authority responsible for the respective recognition. Depending on the field of qualification that could be for example the Chamber of Industry and Commerce or the local district authority. The recognition finder asks you why you wish to have your qualifications recognized and what your profession is. After that, you can enter the city where you want to work in, so that the recognition finder can give you the name and the address of the authority that recognizes your qualifications. It also informs you about the further procedure like discussing your individual case before visiting the department via phone or email with your local Chamber of Industry and Commerce to make the process as quick as possible.

Inside German companies

The recognition of one’s qualification is also an important question for companies in Germany. In 2015 the industrial group Thyssenkrupp started a program in which it created an extra of 150 jobs, especially for refugees. The company says about itself that they are aware of their responsibility towards society. Two of the most important values employees at Thyssenkrupp live up to are openness and tolerance. That is why the company decided to start that program. Public relations officer Heike Neumeister explains that the different levels of education among applicants from different countries is still a problem in the context of economic integration of migrants who lack the necessary documents. “There is not yet a nationwide test that identifies the individual qualifications of every applicant with respect to work profiles. We can only look carefully at our applicants and assess our own standards.” Which is not so easy, especially if the applicants are not familiar with the German language. For migrants who plan to start an apprenticeship in Germany the recognition of their qualifications is particularly important, because the German apprenticeship system is a dual one. “The dual apprenticeship is the traditional system in Germany. That means that trainees attend a technical college as well as working in an apprenticing company”, explains Jessica Hallmann from the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. “The applicants need to be able to follow the lessons at school in order to be successful in the apprenticeship as a whole. That’s why we cannot say it does not matter whether an applicant has a high school diploma or one of an elementary school,” adds Sabrina Munsch, corporate human resource manager at Thyssenkrupp. Another important point and the next step on the way for Innocent Mekari as well as for recognized asylum seekers in order to find a job is to learn the German language. “We give our trainees the possibility of attending vocational German Courses. Although one of our preconditions is that they have to speak German on at least a B2-level when they start their career at Thyssenkrupp”, says Sabrina Munsch. Ulrike Knipping, who works for VKF Renzel, a company for sales promotion located close to the Dutch border that hired seven refugees in April 2015, explains that in her company the German language was not such an important precondition. “In the first days we worked together with an interpreter. In the meantime, we could organize German language courses and we also use gestures to explain ourselves”. But in contrast to Thyssenkrupp VKF Renzel does not yet employ the refugees as trainees, but as temporary assistants in the production. That means the employees at VKF Renzel do not attend a German school alongside their working life.

Apart from the language and the level of qualification both companies also explained that it is important to make oneself familiar with the corporate culture before applying for a job and having a job interview as the next step on the way to a job in Germany. From December 2015 to March 2016 the German Institute for Employment Research conducted a survey in which it questioned 123 refugees and 26 experts that are involved in refugee work. Among other statements they came to the conclusion that in some cultures it is unusual for women to be in a leadership position. “For few foreign trainees or employees it is hard to accept cultural differences e.g. a woman to be their boss. But we as a company need to state that we have our corporate culture and a certain system of values to which every single one who works at ThyssenKrupp has to stick to”, explains Heike Neumeister. “That is not about German primary culture, but about rules for a smoothly running company”, adds Sabrina Munsch.

Changing sides: A Tanzanian in Germany, German companies and their effort in integrating foreign applicants

Apart from the migrants setting off for a job in Germany and searching actively for employment the companies in Germany also have to be active in recruiting and being involved in integrating migrants on an economic level. Besides the necessity of creating new perspectives for the incoming people the companies also see long-lasting potentials in migrants for the country itself, as the platform, “we together” (wir zusammen) explains. This Platform pursues the goal of integrating people who migrated to Germany into the working world as well as into the society. The foundation for the project was planned by some well-known companies, who founded the first integration projects. The platform gives companies, which are involved in integrating migrants the possibility to present their projects to the public. By now more than 120 different companies already published their projects.

According to the German Federal Employment Agency, companies have a great interest in recruiting foreign graduates. Some reasons for their motivation are amongst other things securing skilled workers for their own company, as well as the language competence – foreign graduates often speak German and English in addition to their mother language. Another reason are the cultural competences: The graduates know working methods in different countries, which can be an advantage for the companies, because with this knowledge the company can improve their business contacts.

But there are also some obstacles that companies and graduates have to overcome: “Foreign people and especially refugees need someone who guides them to be able to first of all understand the German operational system. For example, at the beginning some of our foreign employees did not understand why they have to work nine hours a day,” states Ulrike Knipping. And Sabrina Munsch explains: “We talk to schools and work together with the Job Centre and the Federal Employment Agency to promote our program for refugees.” In Germany, in general, the tendency of helping refugees in economic terms gets more and more popular and positive, which shows the platform we together (“wir zusammen”) .

This project is not only interesting for people like Innocent Mekari but especially for those who already are in Germany hoping to find a job.

An example for someone who took the chance to come to Germany in order to have better working opportunities and to experience better education than in Tanzania is 39-year-old Juma Ahmed Mpangule. Before leaving his country he made his bachelor degree in building economics and afterwards his master degree in construction economics. He became a teacher at the university in Tanzania. Then he took the chance of taking part in a program between his university and the DAAD which promotes young scientists. The DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service, is a community organization between German universities and student bodies who focus on taking care of international relations.

When he first came to Germany, he took part in a language course for four months in Cologne. Afterwards he moved to Dortmund in order to do his PhD thesis in Building Information Modeling. “My decision of coming to would be just the same as people from one city, like Dortmund decide to work in Berlin: Because it is simply better for them,” explains Juma Ahemd Mpangule. He also adds that the development in Tanzania is very slow, which leads to the fact that people from Tanzania have better opportunities if they receive their education somewhere else.

He is convinced that there are a lot of opportunities in Germany, he knows that there might be obstacles, like language barriers or different values, which the people who wish to work there have to overcome. He says for example that he cannot blame German companies if they prefer someone from Germany: “It might be true that as Tanzanians they may have the lower education or qualification standards.

According to statistics of the German Federal Office for Migration 40,2 percent of the African adolescents complete the compulsory basic secondary schooling which is the lowest educational degree in Germany. 32,2 percent have a general certificate of secondary education and only 27,6 percent of adolescents have Abitur, which is equivalent to the British A level or American SAT exam. In comparison to Africa as a whole, almost 40 percent of the adolescents in Germany have Abitur. But according to Juma Tanzanians have other qualities, such as being trustful which would be one of the key issues in Germany among being skilled and having the professional competence. “So with the time they may equally catch up with the German standards.” Juma also says that it would be important to adopt the German values when working and living there.

The German language course, he took in the beginning, was more of an introduction, like learning the basic skills for making a conversation. He needed a more specific, in his case, construction related language. If that is going to be given it would be easier for young people to integrate into the system and to overcome the cultural barrier.

When asked, why he came to Germany he explains that the situation in Tanzania is not a situation „you have to run from“. “The current situation in Tanzania is that they are not as open as other African countries”, and because of that not as well developed. “In Tanzania everything is ok, the only aspect I wish the government would support, is to improve our thinking and our competence in terms of skills, because we have to interact with the world.“ In order to improve and develop he wishes that more of the younger people would go out and see what is there within the current globalization so that Tanzania can become able to compete with other countries.

Johannes Döveling, a legal scholar at the Tanzanian-German Centre for Eastern African Legal Studies at University of Dar es Salaam School of Law in cooperation with the University of Bayreuth, states that it was not uncommon for Tanzanian students to complete their PhD studies at the age of 39 only. From his view, relatively high study fees and limited availability of scholarships within East Africa may hinder students from joining postgraduate study programs immediately after their first degree. Many Tanzanians work before they join university programs or take the chance, like Juma did, to go to foreign countries with the help of a DAAD scholarship.

The DAAD is one of the biggest supporting organization regarding the international exchange of students and scientists worldwide. According to their website the DAAD not only supports scholarships but furthermore strengthens the German language in foreign countries and supports developing countries with assembling universities and they advise the decision, However, the new Tanzanian government has implemented an education policy that concentrates on study programs within Tanzania. “Scholarships from Germany and other European states can partly fill this gap for those students who still wish to study abroad,” legal scholar Döveling says.

Like Juma Johannes Döveling explains: “Tanzanians who study abroad are highly motivated to further their education for the benefit of their home country. For them, there is thus no pressure of migrating to Europe after their studies.

Since Juma already has a university degree, he is an example of a social elite group member – only the best qualify to get a scholarship. “Education opportunities in Tanzania depend on the financial means of a family. It is therefore quite difficult for students from the lower social classes to obtain school degrees that would qualify them for university scholarships,“ Döveling says. It would be a financial challenge and the quality of state-run schools is too low for taking part in such programs so that many of those programs are financed from abroad. He furthermore explains that there is some mobility in direction of South Africa, Europe, USA, mostly from Tanzanians who want to work in the field of education or who want to take advantage of foreign educational opportunities, like Juma does. ”As members of the elite academicians, people like Juma, are those who will bring the country forward in terms of development,” Johannes Döveling explains.

But apart from scholarships, there are other opportunities to gain work experience in Germany. For example, if foreign students study in Germany and want to stay to gain work experience.

The German Union of Employer’s Association explains the most important steps for graduates from abroad at German universities: After successfully graduating the graduates can stay for another 18 months in order to find work. In this time the graduates can work without any restrictions. Students are also allowed to work during their studies with a limit of 120 full or 240 half days a year. Another opportunity is to apply for the EU Blue Card.
Make it in Germany or bringing back the experience to Tanzania?

But most of the Tanzanian people don’t want to stay forever. They come with the idea in mind of going back someday. “They have excellent job chances once they are back in Tanzania. With a Master- or PhD degree from a German university they will be considered as high performers and they will be paid accordingly. On the other side, it would even be difficult for many of them to get a foot in the German labour market that would allow for a similar career,” he adds.

“If you ask me if I wish to stay here I would say yes, but me staying here may also mean no learning for my country”, says Juma Mpangule. Regarding his children he would really like to stay, because it would be an assurance of global level standard education and of a number of important social benefits for his children that at the moment are not at the same standard in Tanzania but, “I believe the Tanzanian and actually the best way would be going back and change the world in Tanzania, so that my kids get the same benefits there as they would get in Germany.”

If you have the dream of going abroad and gain some work experience in Germany Heike Neumeister recommends “to be open minded, it is normal to have fear of contact at first but it is important to keep being curious and being informed of what options are possible, because there are a lot of opportunities regarding jobs. A very good website in order to get an overview of what might be possible is “wir zusammen“, here you can find a lot of programs bundled on one website.” Her colleague Sabrina Munsch adds that it would be important to arrive with realistic expectations because unrealistic expectations lead to frustration. “You need to have realistic expectations and a high tolerance of frustration because you have to be patient until your application for asylum is accepted or you find a flat.”

Different cultures require a certain amount of openness and tolerance. That may not be easy at the beginning. But Juma Ahmed Mpangule shows that it might be worth the struggle, for oneself but also for Tanzania as a whole. Innocent Mekari can follow the different tips as well as Juma’s footsteps to find his way into the German job market – the way may be difficult and requires courage, but the German economy is on a good way welcoming everyone who is willing and qualified to work there!